Toby Cypress was nice enough to give me a copy of Rodd Racer when I met him in San Diego, which was awfully swell of him. The book is published by Image, and it’s a nice slim volume costing only $7.99. What’s not to love?
Rodd Racer is Cypress’s love letter to olde-tyme auto racing – the book ostensibly takes place in the 1930s, although it’s a slightly more like a science-fiction version of the 1930s. It’s more Dean Motter than reality, in other words. Zeppelins and modern-looking airplanes fly the skies, for instance, and the city in which the action takes place is a weird amalgam of New York and Hong Kong (it’s probably in the United States, because when Rodd and Susie head “west,” they end up in a desert that looks like the American southwest). It’s mainly Cypress having fun with genre-crossing, so we can’t take it all that seriously.
The story is slight, even though it’s perfectly fine and fun. The Rodd Racer wants to drive in the Thunder Alley Rally, but he’s in hock to a gangster named Sidd Vicious. As it turns out, Sidd sponsored him when he was a young driver, but now that he’s on a losing streak, Sidd wants his money back. Of course, the only way he can make the money back is by winning the race, but Sidd wants his money before the race. Rodd and his girl, Susie (who’s also his mechanic), persuade Sidd to allow them to race. Sidd has other ideas – he sends his top assassin and excellent racer, a mysterious woman named Drag’on, to compete against Rodd.
The Thunder Alley Rally is apparently a no-holds-barred death race kind of thing, because Drag’on pulls all sorts of nasty tricks to kill Rodd. Sidd, of course, even had contingency plans in case she fails. Oh, it’s ON!
There’s not a ton of meat in the story, but that’s okay. The story zips along, and even though we see every plot twist coming, Cypress does some nice things to keep us interested. He doesn’t tell the story in chronological order, so we keep flashing back from the actual race to the events leading up to it, including Rodd’s brief interaction with his mentor, another driver who ran afoul of Sidd. Cypress also tells the story in very small chunks – he breaks the book up into short chapters, so it helps keep the reader jumping around and even a bit disoriented, which isn’t a bad thing when you’re reading a book about a race. It helps turn the story into a race of sorts, and it makes the book more kinetic. While it’s not the greatest story, the way Cypress tells it is important and makes it more interesting than it is as just a plot summary.
Rodd Racer is a cool comic, though, because Cypress does such a nice job with the art. Cypress keeps getting better, which is nice. I first saw his art (I think) on The Tourist, and it was all right but far too scratchy. His artwork is still a bit scratchy, but he’s gotten more confident with his figure and design work, so the scratchiness only enhances the work instead of hindering it. Cypress also does a lot of nice work with shading, which helps offset his jagged linework. His characters are straight out of pulp fiction but Cypress makes sure that they don’t simply look like stereotypes – even Drag’on, a somewhat classic femme fatale, is far more interesting than a temptress woman wearing a high-slit dress.
The way Cypress structures the book means that he needs to get a lot into each panel, and it’s fun to look in the backgrounds and see racing cars exploding and other sorts of wacky stuff happening while the plot moves on in the foreground. Cypress also does a really nice job creating the city – it’s an interesting mix of 1930s modernist and 19th-century Asian influences. He has fun with the cars, too, and overall, Cypress’s artwork is usually frenetic, which helps the pacing of the book. The chapter breaks are in color and fit into the book as part of the action, and they offer a nice look at Cypress coloring some of the action. It’s a nice way to break up the pace and show Cypress’s skills with static images.
Rodd Racer isn’t a great comic, but I do like it. Cypress is more an artist than a writer right now, but at least he writes a fun, pulpy comic that doesn’t make any missteps. As an artist first, he knows when to ease back on the writing and let the art blow us away, and he does that quite nicely. Rodd Racer might not have a huge impression on you, but it is an exciting read with very good artwork. That’s not a bad thing at all!